While checking our recent buckwheat and sunflower plantings, I noticed a plant that we’ve assumed was Devil’s Walking Stick covered in bees and other pollinators. Most of these shrubs/trees on our land are inaccessible, but this small one is right next to a trail. Bees were zipping from one flower to the next in a frenzy while gathering a dark-ochre pollen. There were no bees on the same plant when I went back with Hubby after supper or a few minutes ago, even though pollen is still visible.
The lack of thorns on the stem is the first give-away that this is not Devil’s Walking Stick, and the non-serrated edges of the leaves is the second.
Hubby’s research last night provided mixed opinions about sumac honey, but as we usually leave fall honey on hives, we probably won’t get to form our own opinion this year. Quite a few beekeepers also recommend using sumac seed pods as smoker fuel as it calms bees. Now we just need to figure out how to get through all the blackberries to harvest enough seed pods to test that theory. One beekeeper also reported a reduction in mites after using sumac-smoke. We’ll have to fight our way to at least a couple of trees once seed pods form. Once again, what bees appear to like or not like depends on the time of day and for 3 years we’ve been around these trees when the bees were not visiting.
The buckwheat that Hubby sowed last weekend is already sprouting, so we should have buckwheat nectar in a few weeks. The buckwheat will hopefully crowd out some of the weeds that are bound to attempt a come-back while also improving the soil. Once fall temperatures arrive, we’ll mix some clover seed in so that we have a perennial nectar source in those areas. We’re impatiently waiting for the sunflower seeds to sprout. We were late planting them and they are very popular with the local birds right now, but at least that area is prepped for next year.
Something that we’ve noticed about the lily pond is that it is teeming with bees any time a swarm is present. Once the swarm is settled, pond activity returns to normal. Now that we’ve put two-and-two together, we’re going to start looking up if we see unusual numbers of bees gathering water.
The current high heat index is making it a little easier to stay indoors and let my neck and arm heal, and the golf cart allows me to spend some time in nature when I just have to get off the couch! Life is good, and the dog days of summer at probably the best time for mandated laziness!
The Sourwood trees (nectar source) and Devil’s Walking Stick (pollen and nectar source) are on the cusp of flowering, and last week bees were not interested in pollen substitute or sugar syrup, but now they are ravenous waiting for late summer blooms to start. We’ve noticed a recent decline in resources stored in hives and queens have slowed down laying brood, so they and we knew the dearth was coming.
We’ve had a lot of success with Bee Pro pollen the last two years. I have four pollen feeders out around the farm and each needs to be refilled at least once a day. Two feeders are covered, and I only use the uncovered trays in times of high demand as the bees don’t like it as much once it turns to mud during our afternoon thunderstorms! As you can see from the above picture, I need to refill feeders before foragers are out and about and estimate how much they’ll consume before the rains come. There’s no way I’m getting between them and what’s on the tray without a bee suit, and there would have to be a better reason than that to suit up in 100 degree heat! However, despite the recent weather forecasts, the rain hasn’t even moved the rain gauge even though thunder has sent us indoors the last few days, so little pollen substitute has gone to waste.
We’ve moving away from open feeding syrup as we only want to feed our bees and not every nectar-sipping insect in a 5-mile radius. Hubby is setting up the tank for first time use: as it is set up in the picture, the pump will cycle syrup to keep the sugar and water well mixed , and it will also pump syrup through the red hose into a smaller tank that sits on the ATV or golf cart. The smaller tank has its own pump, so we’ll be able to easily refill internal feeders or feeder pails. That will be a big improvement over loading up gallon milk jugs and liter soda bottles with syrup in the kitchen and driving them around to hives we are already feeding. For one thing, it will keep me from spilling sugar all over the kitchen floor!
We’ve had some robbing problems when internal feeding late summer in the past, so we’ll have to keep hives strong enough to fend off invaders when using division board feeders. We have some entrance feeders to use with weaker hives, but we don’t want to block entrances completely in this heat. As with everything else, supplemental feeding is a balancing act and I’m glad that I’m home during much of summer to keep an eye on things. We merged a couple of weak, queenless NUCs into other hives this week rather than risk them dying while trying to defend a feeder.
Hubby has also been researching beneficial sunflowers as another July pollen and nectar source. We placed some hives on a neighbor’s sunflower field a couple of years ago, and the hives came back with no resources and sick bees. Apparently it’s good to know what kind of sunflowers you’re looking at. Bee Culture reports that sunflower pollen is beneficial for bee health, but other sources report that some sunflowers produce a sticky substance in which bees can become stuck which reduces the number of field bees. As the aforementioned hives had surprisingly few foragers, we’re guessing our neighbor plants sticky sunflowers! We’re going to plant some Lemon Queen sunflowers as articles consistently recommend them for bees. We may even try to plant some this year….. or maybe not as another thunderstorm just moved through without leaving a drop of rain.
As always, natural food sources are the best and supplemental feeding means we won’t pull any honey even if we think it was stored while nectar was still flowing.
All this thinking about feeding bees has made me hungry, so I guess it’s time to head into the kitchen and prepare something for us. We were both so tired after planting 30+ shrubs and trees yesterday that we didn’t eat a real supper, but more about that another day.
According to Hubby’s spreadsheet, 50 hives going into the spring nectar flow is the magic number at which the apiary will become financially viable, based on honey sales alone. We weren’t there at the start of spring this year, and probably won’t harvest any more honey this year as we’re letting our hives keep their nectar to build reserves for the dearth, but with the three splits I made yesterday, we do now have 50 strong hives.
Hubby has been working on new hive stands in a sunnier location than our first site, and the above three splits are the first occupants. We want to move all of the hives from the first site because small hive beetles thrive in the shade there and the hives are too close to the planned house site. Contractors may not be as thrilled as we are to watch bees head to the creek or fly around making orientation flights! Before the big migration, we want to get carpet remnants under each stand to make life difficult for small hive beetles. We already have quality landscape fabric along the whole run because it’s more fun checking hives when you don’t have to fight blackberry vines while doing so!
Talking of checking hives, I only have four left to check for this round, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to make some more splits. But my back hurt this morning, and it was hot and humid, and I just couldn’t face suiting up! What’s the best (productive) thing to do on a hot humid day? Well, pressure wash hive components and paint! I repainted some wood ware last week, and most of what was left just needed a touch up on the hive numbers, so today was a low pressure day. When we have a bunch of hive components that are all the same color, you can be pretty sure Hubby used the paint sprayer. When we have a mixture, I hand painted. We need the balance between efficiency and variety otherwise we’d run out of hive bodies. Well, I need the variety — I love to look out at a colorful bee yard.
I can also rationalize a multi-colored bee yard because it reduces drifting. Even when we have a number of similar hives, I try to paint the hive numbers in a variety of colors and add designs that help the bees find their ways home. I have to admit that what drives me most is the joy of making things pretty. Hubby and the bees don’t seem to care that I only ever took one art class in high school or that my flowers rarely look like anything found in nature. Hubby likes to see me happy, and sometimes that means painting pink flowers, and sometimes it means designing a database!
My other summer project has been an Access database. Our Excel spreadsheet for tracking hive inspections was becoming too cumbersome, so I gave Access another shot. That I got nowherewith Access the past two summers says a lot about my stress levels back then as almost everything is falling into place now that I am relaxed and rested. That brings me a different kind of joy than the colorful hives, especially as it’s proving useful. Hubby asked me how many active NUCs we have last night, and I was able to tell him with just a few mouse clicks, so he kept throwing questions at me! I was able to answer almost all of them with minimal effort. There are still a number of reports that I want to develop, but they won’t be a chore as I love exercising that side of my brain sometimes.
Life has been especially good this week as Hubby didn’t have to work at his day-job. We are so blessed to be surrounded by so much beauty. We have a constant supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, and the garden will be even bigger next year. Life really doesn’t get any better than this!
We’ve made a few changes this year which have led to stronger hives. We did complete inspections on 75% of the hives at the end of last week and saw maybe 20 small hive beetles in total. Since moving here, we’ve seen that many in the lids of the hives in the worse corner of the apiary, but even the two we have left on that hive stand are pretty much beetle-free. We add Beetle Blasters as soon as we see beetles on the frames, but we know from previous years that there’s only so much they can do.
The first thing we did was treat the hives with ProDFM in spring. A little goes a long way and I was able to treat more than 10 hives with the 3.5 ounce bag we bought to experiment with. Most hives got off to a good start and started packing in pollen and nectar as soon as it was available. We tried a different strategy on the hives that were slower to get up to speed.
Following Ian Steppler’s methodology, we swapped (and continue to swap) a lot more frames from strong to weak hives. We’ve always done that, to an extent, but this year we focused on leveling the hives and delayed making any splits. That really paid off in the long run, and the splits we made later in spring were more successful. When we came across a hive that was really weak, we did a newspaper introduction to a hive that had space for a frame or two more bees. Again, the short term loss of one hive led to bigger gains in the future.
We are now setting splits up with more bees and resources and are seeing them quickly coming up to speed. We’ve moved underpopulated 8 and 10 frame hives to NUCs and we’ve used internal feeders as place holders when we think there aren’t enough bees to manage a full contingent of frames.
Back to beetles:
After watching some of Barnyard Bees’ videos about chickens and small hive beetles, I was ready to rush out and buy some game hens and laying chickens, but we don’t have time to build a coop or a run. Between the coyotes, the eagle, and other assorted critters, we need to protect any fowl we bring here.
David talks about chickens and small hive beetles in a few videos — chickens just love the larvae. In one video, he dumped out a bunch of bees in the chicken pen and let the chickens go to town on the beetles — and they didn’t mess with the bees. He also recommended setting up bug zappers to manage wax moths, so we purchased a Black Flag zapper and see dead wax moths on it every morning. Once we get power to the shop, we’ll add at least one more.
If you go to Barnyard Bee’s YouTube channel, also check out David’s video about why some swarms contain multiple queens — it explains why we found two queens out in the open in the lower apiary on Sunday. Yep, Hubby has converted me to a YouTube watcher!
We moved honey extraction to the RV this weekend and pulled what we expect to be our last harvest for 2019. The biggest advantage of being in the RV was being able to turn the a/c off there and leave it on in the house. After extracting 5 gallons of honey using a manual-crank extractor, it sure was nice to have a cool place to go drink some water before going back to the 90+ degree space for cleanup.
While the hives are currently full of nectar, we are about to go into a dearth and the bees will need what they’ve stored. After the dearth, they’ll need to build up stores for winter during the Goldenrod flow, so we’d have to see a lot of excess honey to pull any more this year.
We actually thought we were already in pollen dearth as we didn’t see any pollen coming in during evening inspections. However, we found some common sense, stopped suiting up when temperatures were in the 90s, and went back to checking hives in the morning; suddenly we saw lots of bright yellow pollen coming in.
There is plenty of bee bread and pollen on frames. We’ve known for years that we are more likely to see bees on buddleia and buckwheat before 10:00 a.m. and on fennel in the evening, but we needed a reminder that we can’t judge a colony by what is going on in five minutes on one day. But we also know to anticipate a pollen dearth before a nectar dearth in July.
Our bees have the luxury of a spring-fed creek very close to the hives, but they still too often decide to risk drowning closer to home! They are especially attracted to splashing water, so they naturally like my lily pond. It will be safer once the water lily leaves cover a wider area, but for now I made life rafts out of pool noodle slices. They are able to drink water that has wicked up through the cells as well as drink from the pond itself. There have been no drownings so far. I cut between a quarter and a half in slices and then joined them with yarn — joining them together was more to keep the wind from blowing individual slices all over the yard than anything else.
Well, the sun has dried the heavy dew off my freshly painted bookshelves, so I’m going back out to see whether I need to sand and start over or just keep painting. Impatience got the best of me again, but I just had to see if the paint really looked as pretty on my classroom furniture as it did on the card!
It’s June 9, and we’ve already surpassed May’s 3.9-inch rainfall total; most of the rain has fallen in the last three days and there is more to come. My heart goes out to all of the people who were already living with floods and certainly did not need this rain, but at the same time I am grateful that our Georgia drought has been somewhat alleviated.
I took advantage of a break in this morning’s rain to take the honey-covered blossoms from my lavender-infused honey outside for the bees to clean up and heard a roar of bees coming from the cucumber bed. It wasn’t quite loud enough to be a swarm, but it was far louder than usual — about the volume of a small hive. Lo and behold, bees of all kinds were taking advantage of the blossoms that were sheltered from the rain and still had nectar to offer. One bedraggled bumblebee was even hanging upside down trying to dry off. The fennel in the background of the top image has been a big hit with the bees the past few days, but it got knocked around in the 60 mph gusts the other day and we’re worried it may not recover. Likewise, about a third of our corn was flattened, and the tomato cages were knocked askew. We’ll try to stand all of these back up once this weather system passes — our efforts between downpours have been futile!
We’re a couple of days away from tasting our first lemon cucumber. The one in the bottom right frame is about half the size of the ripening one. I checked the big one yesterday and it’s still green. According to High Mowing Seeds, lemon cucumbers are edible but crunchy when light yellow and at their best right before turning the color of a lemon. I’ll be careful checking anything in that bed from now on as the biggest millipede or centipede I’ve ever seen hitch-hiked it’s way back into the house with me! I just tried to identify which type it is, but just looking at the pictures makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It doesn’t help that the thing either bit or stung Hubby when he came to my rescue.
(Hubby was kind enough to look it up for me. It was a centipede and they do inject venom when they bite. However, they eat soft-bodied insects such as spiders and aphids, so they are welcome in the garden, just not in the house.)
Maggie has been doing better with this round of storms. She doesn’t shake anymore or insist on being held like a lap dog. However, she does “hide” under her duck when the going gets tough! Right now, she’s wandering around checking out all the new smells and is quite content to be outside without her humans. She’ll be even happier if we grab the golf-cart keys and head out to join her — one more cup of coffee and we’ll be out the door until the rain drives us back inside.
Spring was good to us with its profusion of blackberry blossoms which yielded hives full of pale and delicious honey. We put our daughter and her boyfriend, JI, in bee suits for the first time and had them smoking and brushing bees, which they greatly enjoyed. (I’m glad that I was the only one who got stung on their first excursion to the bee yard! I even restrained my remarks to the bee that crawled up my boot. )
We only checked honey supers above excluders and were still able to pull 95 pounds of honey. There are full supers with frames that were 3/4 capped last weekend, so we’ll have more to process in the near future.
As the workshop is still in disarray, we extracted the honey in the kitchen with the four of us working very well together in the cramped space. JI is a natural at decapping frames and we all took turns cranking the handle on the extractor. I’d covered the island with a sheet and put towels down on the floor, so clean up was a breeze. With water and electricity at the shop now, we were able to pressure wash the equipment. I even had enough energy left to pressure-wash the wood ware that I plan to repaint sometime this week. (Or do I mean next week? What day is it? I love summer break!)
The main nectar source right now appears to be elderberry, and the bees are still visiting buckwheat early in the day. I’m very happy to see them on the lavender, but I don’t yet have enough lavender for it to make a difference. I just read that varroa mites don’t like the way lavender smells, so lavender pollen and nectar can help protect bees. (Source: Plants for honey bees) That makes me want to go out and clip more cuttings right now, but I need to wait a while as the plants are currently in full bloom.
I did cut some blooms a couple of days ago for my first attempt at making lavender infused honey. I know I need more, but I really want to leave as many flowers on the plant for bee-forage as possible. Some of the recipes I looked at require heating the honey, which I prefer not to do, so I am following a recipe from NectarApothecary.com that takes 4 – 6 weeks. I do not have dried blooms, so I know there’s a risk that fresh flowers will make the honey crystallize, but I’m not worried about that as I plan to add it to tea or simply eat it by the spoonful when I have a sore throat! I know I’m not supposed to disturb the honey, but I can’t resist taking the lid off to inhale the incredible aroma now and then. It’s only a matter of time before I dunk a teaspoon in, so there may not be much left in the jar by the end of the six weeks….
Today we get to find a home (other than the living room) for the Honey Keg and pour our liquid gold into it for storage and eventual easy bottling. I couldn’t find my mason jars and lids the other day, so it may be time to just have a case of pre-sterilized containers shipped in. Our previous process of ladling honey into jars in the kitchen sink is going to take too long, but I’m not going to complain about how much honey we have. After all, our progress means we’re one step closer to being able to retire from our day jobs!
It’s another beautiful day on the farm, and we finally have a chance of rain in the forecast. Cucumbers, grapes, blackberries, and tomatoes are all getting closer to being edible. We got to eat four incredible blueberries from one of the new bushes yesterday. The workshop passed the building inspection yesterday. Best of all — we no longer have to worry about what is going on with our old house and can now focus on framing the honey shop in the workshop. It just simply doesn’t get any better than this!
During the week, it’s hard to see whether or not the bees appreciate the quarter acre of buckwheat we have planted for them because the nectar dries up in the heat of the day. Temperatures have been in the 90s this week, so it doesn’t take long for the blooms to run dry. There was a loud hum in the garden this morning, so I came back indoors to get the camera and then spent about 20 minutes looking closely at the buckwheat through the lens. (I gave up when I heard something rustle around the cucumbers as I wasn’t appropriately dressed to encounter any snakes.)
I’ve seen red wasps on the buckwheat in the evening, but this morning was all about the bees – honey bees, bumble bees, and tiny bees that I don’t have a name for. Butterflies are making the best of the pink clover, and the dog was fascinated by something in the wood line. All in all, it was the perfect way to start the day.
So now I’ve had sufficient coffee, it’s time to start on chores, the first of which is get the RV ready for guests. We have only been in there to access the freezer or work on craft projects since we moved into the mobile home in June, so the critters have had free run of the place. Now that the kids are coming in for the weekend, it’s time to evict the squatters and clean up their mess! Hubby put some traps out last night, but I’m hoping that the mess-makers were only in there over the coldest days of winter. (After disturbing a mouse while packing up my classroom, I know that’s a futile hope.)
While I’m not looking forward to cleaning, life is still good on the farm. Another school year is over and I can look back on a year during which my students made a lot of progress. Then I can look around the farm and see what a difference living here full time has made. Finally I can look at the tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons that are growing so very well and promising healthy eating in just a few weeks. I love this place!